The big issue: Man with a history

The big issue: Man with a history

Whoever writes the script for the movie of his life — which, by the way, someone definitely should do — will have to tone it down a bit or many viewers won’t believe that just one man has done what three-star Gen Manas Kongpan has done.

And of course whether he will be doing more is moot for now, because (as of press time at least) he was locked up in the southern province of Songkhla. Police told the judge he should not be free until his trial(s) on a baker’s dozen of serious charges.

Lt Gen Manas, in the police version, has been trafficking in persons, trafficking children, abducting illegal aliens, ransoming illegal migrants, assaulting (English translation: killing) some and using mass graves to hide the evidence. There are other charges including the catch-all, "conducting transnational crime".

The remarkable story here is that the police have any stick in this issue. Their arrest of Lt Gen Manas is beyond extraordinary. In tangling with the secret side of the military, national police chief Somyot Poompunmuang is walking where few men in brown have dared.

The army man in the Songkhla cell, repeatedly denying he had anything at all to do with human trafficking, is not just your standard, well-connected officer with links to the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).

Within hours of his arrest, the Defence Minister and national coup expert, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, was vouching for Lt Gen Manas. The arrestee was a good man who has given much to the country.

Some may be cynical about internal military cover-ups for fellow officers. Or Gen Prawit may consider Lt Gen Manas to be one of those described by George Orwell, one of the "rough men ready to do violence" to make the country secure.

According to official records, Lt Gen Manas has been well rewarded in military terms for his work. He has shot from colonel to three-star rank. Before that, it appeared he might be colonel-for-life, at least until April 27, 2004.

That was the night of the very strange, coordinated attacks across the South by more than 100 men, many armed only with knives.

As security forces took rapid control of the situation, killing some attackers and sending many fleeing, 32 of the men ran into the Krue Se mosque in Pattani province and claimed they had the right of religious asylum.

Orders from Bangkok were to wait the siege out. But after seven hours, Isoc godfather Gen Panlop Pinmanee and other officers got tired and sent their top operatives in to kill all 32 at point-blank range.

Then-Col Manas was at the forefront of the one-sided attack on the historic mosque — called "murder" across the South and by many in Bangkok.

Four years later, after the military government headed by Gen Surayud Chulanont had apologised for the killings, a Pattani province court ruled that Col Manas and a few others should be held responsible. No charges were filed by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government.

Col Manas became a specialist on the South. "People say I hate Muslims," he told an interviewer once. "But how could I? My brother married a Muslim from Yala."

But while some of his best friends were Muslims, Army Specialist Manas wasn’t friendly to all.

The same year he did not stand trial for disobeying orders and illegal killings, Col Manas was working on the problem of migrants, specifically Rohingya drifting into Thailand while trying to get to Malaysia for jobs and resettlement.

A large, rickety boatload of the Myanmar migrants got to Thai waters, where Col Manas became directly involved.

Media and eyewitnesses reported that on the orders of an Isoc colonel at the scene, the navy hooked a patrol boat to the Rohingya craft, towed it far offshore and set it adrift. Without food, water or critical fuel, the Rohingya were at the mercy of the currents, or more precisely at the lack of mercy. Everyone aboard the boat perished, and many of the bodies washed up on Indian islands.

Col Manas testified to parliament that the stories were hooey, the eyewitnesses mistaken, the media liars. No one died at Thai hands, because he had personally ensured the Rohingya had left with massive supplies of food, water, fuel, tools and much more. He was the only person to give that version of events. No charges were filed by the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

The interesting story of Lt Gen Manas opens once again a tiny crack in the mysterious conspiracy wall of Isoc and its present-day operations, where by "once again" we refer obviously to Khattiya "Seh Daeng" Sawasdipol. He had to be killed by a sniper. What he did, what his 2015 brother in arms Lt Gen Manas does to make the country sleep safely, few know and no one will say.

Nor is anyone giving odds that Lt Gen Manas will stop doing it.

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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